Most students at Texas State University fill their winter break with much-needed rest. Some spend their time on the couch with stomachs full of ham, turkey or whatever mom can whip up. Others decompress and let the worry of exams, essays and pop quizzes melt from their minds.
But rest, no matter how desperately needed, is the last thing on the minds of 28 nursing students who arrived in Nicaragua on Monday.
These students will spend the next two weeks fanning out across some of the poorest communities in the country to provide free healthcare to families, many of whom have not received care in more than a year. In a country where diseases including malaria, typhoid and chikungunya are common, that can be a real problem.
Beth Biggan, assistant clinical professor for St. David’s School of Nursing, launched the program five years ago. Now, when she arrives in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city, she is greeted with smiles and long, tight hugs from those she has worked with.
Jairo Rivas, International Service Learning team leader, said the program targets areas where many do not have access to medicine, and where conditions like headaches, stomach aches and urinary tract infections often go untreated.
“We pick really poor communities,” he said.
In previous trips, Biggan said that students have given medication, stitches and shots to hundreds of patients, and one even delivered a baby.
Nursing seniors Caitlin Ortiz and Alex Orzech said that based upon the conditions they saw on an hour-long bus ride through the area, they think they will see a variety of illnesses.
“It is very rural, tropical and hot,” Ortiz said, adding that those conditions can be hotbeds for mosquito-borne illnesses.
Orzech said many families in the area live in homes with dirt floors, open windows and have farm animals living inside with them.
“Driving through made me sad,” she said. “There were a lot of children walking around without shoes on.”
While they won’t be providing shoes, Massiel Acetuno, ISL assistant team leader, said the knowledge and medicine the students bring with them means far more to local “Nicas” than they realize.
“For them, you are angels sent from God,” she said. “It means the world to them.”